Norway House Cree Nation to evacuate personal care home residents as health worries mount

A Manitoba First Nation is going out on its own and evacuating residents of its personal care home for safety reasons.

Provincial government offered ideas, but none found favour with the community

After numerous issues arose during the course of renovations, Norway House Cree Nation has made the decision to temporarily relocate all residents at Pinaow Wachi personal care home to Winnipeg. (Google Street View)

A Manitoba First Nation is going out on its own and evacuating residents of its personal care home for safety reasons.

Beginning on Friday, Norway House Cree Nation is moving 22 residents into the community's medical boarding home in Winnipeg, and 20 staff will be staying in the city to assist them, Coun. Deon Clarke said. 

Norway House has been renovating its personal care home, Pinaow Wachi, but their efforts were hampered by a sewer line collapsing, sewage backup into several rooms and two months without hot water. They're also worried about radon exposure from the disturbed foundation.

"We were going enough is enough. We're risking the workers' health, we're risking the residents' health," Clarke said.

The decision to evacuate was made last week and, Clarke said, the province was initially willing to help. They first offered a multi-level facility in Portage la Prairie, but Norway House said it wouldn't be accessible for their elders, Clarke said.

Province's alternatives panned

The province later settled on dispersing the residents across the province, but Clarke said the community wasn't keen on separating people from their friends and neighbours.

He said the government then looked at keeping the residents in their personal care home. A provincial health inspector considered facility to be fine, Clarke said, but community leadership disagreed.

"These are our elders. These are our knowledge keepers. These are our language keepers," he said. "Their time with us is very precious, and we got to keep the best interests of our elders" in mind.

Norway House decided to come up with its own accommodations, the councillor said. Shared Health said it has provided many supplies for the temporary site, including several beds. Clarke said talks with the province have since broken down.

He said Indigenous Services Canada has conditionally agreed to support Norway House's relocation effort. Clarke is hopeful the federal department and provincial government will help financially. 

Neither the provincial government or Indigenous Services Canada answered requests for comment late Wednesday.

The evacuation is slated to begin on Friday, Clarke said. 

The Manitoba Liberals brought up the evacuation in question period on Wednesday. Leader Dougald Lamont called on the PC government to cover the financial costs, given that health care falls under the province's purview.

"The whole question is, why is Norway House stuck in this position that they don't know who's going to pay for it?" Lamont said to reporters afterward.

Residents of Norway House Cree Nation’s personal care home have been living without running water for nearly a month, and now, they are being moved out of the community. Guest host Stephanie Cram spoke with band councillor Deon Clarke about what led to this evacuation and where the residents will live in the meantime.